Many demonstrators arriving for G-20 search for places to rest their weary heads
Several Allegheny County sheriff's deputies brush up on their crowd-control techniques at the Allegheny County Police Academy in North Park yesterday in preparation for the two-day G-20 summit, which begins Thursday.
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They can't sleep in parks, so they'll have to rest in basements and backyards. Or in vacant lots.
Old and young, in groups or alone, activists from far-away cities have begun converging on Pittsburgh this weekend to prepare for demonstrations during the Group of 20 Summit.
And they're looking for places to stay.
A federal judge Thursday denied requests from several protest groups to build overnight encampments in public parks, meaning many visitors are scrambling for alternatives.
A member of CodePink, an antiwar group, has offered to let several students from Ohio sleep in the quarter-acre backyard of her North Hills home.
"I think you're going to see a lot of people open their homes, and maybe their yards, to accommodate the hundreds of people who are going to stay here," said Francine Porter, a local organizer for CodePink.
Starting tomorrow, the group will launch a tent city in Point State Park to bring attention to the plight of war refugees. But no one is permitted to sleep there.
The Thomas Merton Center, which has been a point of contact for many out-of-state G-20 protesters, has fielded nearly 100 calls from travelers looking for a place to crash. The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project also has received hundreds of requests for housing help, and was encouraging out-of-towners to stay with family or friends if possible.
"All these people are saying, 'I'll take anything, I'll take a floor in any corner of anyone's house.' I've got people who say, 'I'll sleep in my car if you can find me a driveway,' " said Mel Packer, who has been helping to match visitors with places to stay.
"These are wonderfully committed people who feel a political and moral obligation to be here. They're going to come whether we find them housing or not."
The Merton Center has received requests from both individuals and groups, including one plea for space for 200 to 300 Tibetans and another from about 30 students from Oberlin College in Ohio. Some activists will drive several hours into the city and simply turn around when the demonstrations are finished.
Tonight, the Bail Out the People coalition will open a tent city for unemployed and homeless people and their supporters on a grassy lot at the corner of Soho Street and Wylie Avenue in the Hill District. The property belongs to neighboring Monumental Baptist Church, and it is also the starting point for the "March for Jobs" at 2 p.m. today.
Bail Out the People, which formed last year in response to public anger over billions of dollars in taxpayer money given to failing banks, also wanted to put people in Allegheny Commons on the North Side, but city officials denied a permit request.
Now, the Wylie Avenue camping site could become crowded quickly.
"We're going to find that out," said Larry Holmes, a spokesman for the group. "We've been making plans all week for overflow."
One possibility: locating other empty lots along Wylie and asking the owners for permission to set up more tents.
The main tent city will be open from today until Friday, the final day of the two-day G-20 summit. Local businesses have donated food and supplies.
"The most important thing is, we don't want a mess. We want it to be orderly. We want it to be safe. The members of the Hill District community have been welcoming, and we want to be responsible to them," Mr. Holmes said. "And we don't want the message to get lost -- we're trying to dramatize the message of people who are suffering."
Some participants already have experience camping out to make a political message.
John Parker, 49, of Los Angeles, said he spent a week in a tent in front of the U.S. Capitol in 2007 to protest congressional funding for the Iraq war. He and three other activists left California on Thursday in a sport utility vehicle emblazoned across the side with a message: "Going to the G-20. A job is a right."
"They're going to focus on helping the bankers," Mr. Parker said of the G-20 meeting. "Never on the agenda is the immediate needs of working people."
David Meieran, an organizer with Three Rivers Climate Convergence, said Pittsburgh officials were trying to make it harder for protesters to stay in the city by denying permits for camping in parks. But he predicted that even more would come as a result.
"People are so outraged by our leaders' failure to address the economic crisis," he said.
First Published September 20, 2009 12:00 am